Iron Fist

The Indian government has authorised its Navy to take all necessary action  immediately to freeing Indian nationals held by pirates should an Indian merchant vessel be attacked.

Sources in India have learned that a cabinet committee on security has decided  to adopt an aggressive approach to counter piracy. It is understood that this decision is based upon lessons learnt from the French approach.

Through authorising aggressive measures, the Indian Government has now given its Navy the order to police waters assertively with the aim of discouraging piracy. The move also has the goal of lowering insurance premiums in order to make merchant shipping more economically viable both off the Indian west coast and further afield.

As the committee meeting on standard operating procedures against piracy was taking place the Indian Navy captured 61 suspected Somali pirates.

It is also understood that the Government have accepted an Indian Navy proposal to allowing Indian merchant vessels to embark armed security teams. Shipping companies will also be advised to create strong rooms or citadels where crew members can take shelter and launch an SOS in the event of an attack.

India fully understands that the threats to merchant shipping come mainly from Somali and Yemeni pirates around the Horn of Africa, the committee discussed the problems at sea in the correct context of their being the result of problems on land.

One example in particular of assertive action that the committee considered and discussed while drafting new standard operating procedures and rules of engagement in counter-piracy encounters was a case dating back to April 2008. A yacht carrying approximately 30 French nationals was boarded by Somali pirates. The men and women on board the luxury boat were held hostage and a $2 million ransom demand was made.

A French frigate tracked the yacht to Eyl in Somalia’s Puntland region. French marines monitored negotiations and after the ransom was delivered and the hostages were freed, special force snipers and commandos took off from the helicopter-carrier Jeanne d’Arc.

While the first helicopter followed the pirates to a village a sniper fired upon and disabled the pirates’ vehicle. Commandos from the second helicopter then landed and arrested the six pirates. The pirates were flown to the Jeanne d’Arc from where they were transferred to France and later jailed.

After studying this particular operation the Indian Navy concluded that the operation was possible only because the French were acting to save French nationals on a vessel owned and manned by fellow French citizens. Had any members of the crew or passengers not been French or had the vessel belonged to another nation then the operation would have been far more complicated. This is one of the major problems complicating operations against pirated merchant vessels.

India’s Government consider counter-piracy measures as being a top priority and has decided that actions must be taken immediately. Indian sources suggest that the urgency is largely due to fears that shipping will become ever more costlier, this due to rising insurance premiums and the risk of having to take longer routes such as around the Cape rather than transiting the Suez Canal and the Gulf of Aden.

Image courtesy of the Indian Navy

Also see: ‘Armed Solution‘ and ‘India Invests in Maritime Security


Mark Lowe, Friday 18 March 2011

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